Ciabatta is my favorite Italian bread, but it is not always the easiest and quickest bread to make, even for a seasoned baker. The dough is rather wet and sticky and can seem impossible to work with when you're new to the process, but that wet stickiness is also vital to the light, bubbly, airy texture of this bread. This also is a bread that requires some planning ahead because you need to let the starter stand overnight or at least several hours. And planning ahead is not my favorite thing to do.
I was resigned to making ciabatta only when I have the time, which is not often, until I came upon this great technique that cuts down the waiting significantly. The initial rise time for this ciabatta is under two hours, and the second rise is just about an hour. So in under four hours, including prep and baking time, you are rewarded with a fluffy, crusty, delicious bread that you won't be able to stop dunking in olive oil and popping into your mouth. Imagine that.
I have a busy Sunday, so I can't chat too long. My neighbor Heather and I are trapping some feral cats in our neighborhood and I am transporting them to the spay and neuter clinic this afternoon. But before I say ta-ta, here's the recipe. Enjoy, all!
- Mix the sugar, water and yeast in a bowl and set aside for five minutes for the yeast to start working.
- Add the flour and salt and mix in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle. You want the mixture to be just slightly thicker than a pancake batter-- it should definitely not pull together into a firm dough.
- Let the mixture stand for about 15 minutes. Then turn on the stand mixer to a medium-high setting. After about six minutes, the dough will start to make a flapping sound and start rising up the sides of the bowl.
- At this point, switch the paddle for the dough hook and knead for another six to seven minutes until the dough starts pulling cleanly off the sides of the bowl. It will be smooth at this stage but still very sticky and loose.
- Grease a bowl and pour the dough into it. Cover with a plastic wrap or kitchen towel and place in a warm spot, like an oven with the pilot light on.
- In about 1 ½ to 2 hours, the dough would have tripled.
- Prepare a cookie sheet by lining it with parchment paper and then dusting the paper liberally with flour.
- Pour the dough out of the bowl and into the center of the cookie sheet. Dust the top with flour.
- Using a bench scraper, divide the dough into two pieces. Using the bench scraper and a wet hand if needed, shape the dough, tucking the irregular pieces underneath, until you have two flat logs. The logs should be about six inches apart. This is a rustic bread, and the wet dough is not going to hold a definite shape, so don't even try for a beautiful, even look. This is known as an Italian slipper bread for a reason. The baked bread will turn out absolutely gorgeous, trust me, with a translucent, lit-from-within look and those gorgeous air holes.
- Dust some more flour over the logs, then cover them with a loose kitchen towel and place in a warm spot for about an hour or until the logs are risen and all puffy-looking.
- About half an hour before baking, preheat the oven to 500 degrees with a pizza stone or baking stone in place. Place an empty pan in the bottom rack while preheating, then add a cup of water to it just before you place the bread in the oven.
- Place the ciabatta loaves directly on the baking stone by sliding the parchment off your cookie sheet. If you are really not sure how to do this, just place the entire baking sheet on top of the baking stone.
- Bake for 25 minutes or until the loaves are golden-brown and the bottom sounds hollow then tapped.
- Cool thoroughly on a rack.